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College Grads Bike Cross-Country Before Joining Workforce

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Alex and Leah Sanchez at the start of their Bike & Build trip in Charelston, South Carolina . The two dipped their bikes in the Atlantic Ocean before beginning the trip on May 26. The next time they see an ocean, it will be the Pacific.
Alex and Leah Sanchez dip their bikes in the Atlantic Ocean before beginning their Bike & Build trip in Charleston, South Carolina on May 25. The next time they see an ocean, it will be the Pacific in California. Courtesy of Alex Sanchez

One college graduate is traveling 4,260 miles before she gets her first professional job.

Alex Sanchez, 22, and her sister Leah Sanchez, 23, were challenged with the questions many people their age face: Should I go straight into the work force or take a detour from the traditional route?

The sisters decided a bicycle tour would be the perfect answer.

Alex Sanchez graduated from the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications. Her sister is an environmental studies graduate from Florida State University. Now, the two are biking across the country.

The tour, organized by Bike & Build, started on May 25 in Charleston, South Carolina. It takes bicyclists through 13 states and ends in Santa Cruz, California.

Bike & Build is a non-profit organization that has contributed more than $4.5 million to housing groups in 47 states to help promote affordable housing. Young adults, ages 18 to 25, build the homes.

When packing for the trip, Alex prepped a bin with donated cycling clothes she received while fundraising. She also packed a towel, a sleeping bag and her camera gear. As a photographer, she wanted to ensure none of her experiences went undocumented. Her kit includes a Nikon D600 single lens reflex (SLR) camera, GoPro video camera and Canon PowerShot S100 point-and-shoot.

Alex and Leah knew a bike tour was the perfect way for the two sisters to find themselves before finding a job.

“I knew I wanted to do this before I graduated, so I held off on applying for jobs,” Alex said.

Leah Sanchez at the Lutheran church of the holy redeemer in Newberry, South Carolina on May 31
Leah Sanchez at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Newberry, South Carolina on May 31. The bicyclists stopped at the church to rest for the night. Courtesy of Alex Sanchez

Alex and her sister are biking 60 to 100 miles on back roads each day, eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and sleeping in churches. They are on one of the eight cross-country tours Bike & Build will organize this summer.

The sisters had to raise $4,500 each to be a part of Bike & Build. A majority of the money went to the housing project but a portion was put toward their trip. The remaining money helped pay for the trip’s expenses such as a new bike, food and fuel for a support van.

The siblings held fundraisers all over Gainesville to raise the money. They hosted concerts at Boca Fiesta and held fundraisers at Tall Paul’s Brew House, Salty Dog Saloon, The Hyppo, a local farmers market and Kitchen & Spice.

Alex and Leah are not the first in their family to attempt such a feat. Their mother went on a similar journey with her sister when she was the same age in the 1980s.

While some people plan bike trips through organizations like Bike & Build, others plan their own trips.

Tony Wylen, 23, an art and communications design illustration graduate from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, was one of those people.

“I needed to do something different by taking my life in my own hands,” he said.

He traveled for four months along the east side of the country, from Brooklyn to Maine and all the way down to Gainesville, funding his own trip by working small jobs along the way.

After arriving in Gainesville, Wylen worked on a farm in Fort McCoy, just outside Ocala to save up money for his trip back to Brooklyn.

Wylen produced a body of abstract oil paintings while working on the farm and showcased his work in Artwalk Gainesville.

Young people are not the only ones participating in bike tours. Ron Cunningham, executive director of Bike Florida, said his main bike tour customers tend to be older, usually baby boomers with higher incomes.

Cunningham said that young people generally cannot afford the bike tours Bike Florida has to offer, but they can sometimes finance cross-country tours by fundraising or working on various charitable projects.

Cunningham said he has not seen any recent graduates on his tours, but he can see why they would choose a bike tour after major turning points in their life, like graduation.

“I think it frees their minds and opens up a new world of possibilities for them,” Cunningham said. “Travel is always a broadening experience.”

About Nicole Aedo

Nicole is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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